The Michigan DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have released a report highlighting nearly 40 years worth of monitoring data on peregrine falcons in southeast Michigan. It shows that the southeast Michigan peregrine falcon population has expanded from five young birds, which were reintroduced in 1987, to 15 nesting pairs that reared 30 young in 2016 – a remarkable recovery for a species once listed as federally endangered.
The complete report includes a history of peregrine falcons in Michigan, status and trends of nesting birds from 1987-2016, and management and research needs into the future.
Peregrines are considered endangered in Michigan, though they are no longer federally endangered, so monitoring them is important as their population recovers from a major decrease in the 1960s. The peregrine falcon population declined precipitously as the shells of peregrine eggs became extremely fragile because adult birds had accumulated DDT, a pesticide that interfered with calcium metabolism. By 1968, the entire U.S. peregrine falcon population east of the Mississippi was gone.
Michigan began its peregrine recovery efforts in 1986. In 1993, the peregrines in Michigan began reproducing successfully. In 2016, there were 54 nest sites in the entire state, and 29 of them produced young. Thirteen of the 29 sites that produced young were in southeast Michigan. There currently are 29 sites being monitored for peregrine nesting in the southeastern part of the state.
“The peregrine falcon recovery in southeast Michigan is a true conservation success story,” said Christine Becher, southeast Michigan peregrine falcon nesting coordinator for the DNR.
Peregrines are crow-sized birds with a wingspan of 36 to 44 inches. Adults have slate-gray backs and barred breasts, while immature birds have brown backs and heavily streaked breasts. All peregrines have prominent cheek (“moustache”) marks on either side of their head. As is true in most species of birds of prey, the female is larger than the male – female peregrines average 32 ounces in weight, while males average only 22 ounces.
These falcons require large areas of open air for hunting, and are not found in areas that are heavily forested. The diet of the peregrine falcon includes a wide variety of small birds, including pigeons, seabirds, shorebirds and songbirds. Occasionally, they have been known to take small ducks, earning them the misleading name “duck hawks.” Peregrines hunt by diving at their prey from far above and catching it in mid-flight. During these incredible dives, called “stoops,” the birds can reach speeds of 180 miles per hour.
For more on peregrine falcons, click here.